Over the past seven years, more than 100 Scriber Lake High School students have bared their souls through writing, thanks to a one-of-a-kind program spearheaded by teacher Marjie Bowker. Each year their stories are collected and published. Their latest book, “Listen: Young Writers Reflect on Chaos, Clarity, Action and Balance” is now on sale, and was launched in a special event Saturday evening at Edmonds Lutheran Church.
The more than 75 parents, faculty, community representatives and citizens in attendance were treated to a program of readings by the student authors, original music inspired by their writings, and comments from Bowker and others involved in the Scriber student writing program.
The latest book follows previous offerings “This Is A Movement: Owning Our Stories, Writing Our Endings,” “We Are Absolutely Not Okay,” “You’ve Got It All Wrong,” “Behind Closed Doors,” “We Hope You Rise Up,” and “I’m Finally Awake.” All of them contain a series of very personal stories written by Scriber students describing growing up while challenged by gang violence, eating disorders, mental health issues, death, abuse, deportation, drug use and more.
Seven years ago, Bowker co-founded the Scriber Lake Writing Program, whose mission is to foster healing, understanding and literacy through personal storytelling. Over the years, Bowker has become something of a legend to the students whose lives she’s touched.
Each book builds on the ones that came before, offering a series of intensely individual stories that are providing inspiration for others to own past traumas and move forward.
“Just looking at the book titles traces how far we’ve come over the past seven years,” Bowker said. “The first book of stories was a collective cry, saying ‘We are not OK.’ In subsequent years we gained confidence and self-assurance, telling our readers ‘you’ve got it all wrong,’ and ‘I’m finally awake.’ The books have been read and well-received worldwide, gaining additional traction with each edition. Each year we get feedback and praise from readers who have found inspiration and hope in our stories. Last year’s title proclaimed with new-found confidence that ‘this is a movement,’ and this year we’ve gained the additional confidence to tell our audience to ‘listen.’”
This year’s book is dedicated to Liza Behrendt, who taught at Scriber from 2010 until her death last year. Behrendt touched the lives of many students, inspiring them to align their deepest truths with positive actions through her innovative INSTEP program, that brought students out of the classroom to learn about and embrace the healing, serenity and meditative power of nature.
“Liza believed in the transformative power of writing,” said Bowker. “No one believed in it like she did.”
One of the students she touched is Ariel Sanabria, who chose the changes engendered in him through Behrendt’s INSTEP program as the subject of his chapter, “Freebird,” in the current book. Shy by nature, Sanabria asked Scriber faculty member emeritus Chris Brown to read from his story, part of which is excerpted below:
“Everything is so simple when all you need to live is broken down to a basic formula that anybody can read. No Facebook or Instagram, no artificial sounds or pollution. I used to feel trapped in the modern city, like my arms and legs were tied and that I was expected to do what everybody else was doing: go to school, get an education, work, and then die. Hell no. Because of Liza I know I can walk in wide open places feeling free as a bird. Who would’ve thought that a couple of hikes could alter someone’s life? I went from being depressed every day to being close to alright. If it wasn’t for Liza begging me to join, I would have remained that person hiding in the corner.”
An alternative school within the Edmonds School District, Scriber Lake High School offers an environment and learning experience designed to meet the needs of students who have difficulty succeeding in a traditional school setting. Far from the image some have of it as a “last resort” kind of school, Scriber draws highly talented faculty like Behrendt who are committed to excellence, passionately dedicated to their students, and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their success.
There will also be a special event on March 12, 6 p.m., at the Café Louvre in downtown Edmonds, where students will read excerpts from their writings and books will be available for purchase.
Copies of “Listen” may also be purchased locally at Scriber Lake High School and the Edmonds Bookshop. It is also available from online sources. All proceeds go to support future student writing programs.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel